2014, R, 102 min. Directed by Kevin Smith. Starring Justin Long, Michael Parks, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, Guy Lapointe.
REVIEWED By William Goss, Fri., Sept. 19, 2014
Kevin Smith launched his career on the backs of two guys shooting the shit with 1994’s Clerks, and two decades later, as a podcaster with countless fans, two guys shooting the shit is excuse enough for Smith to write, direct, and produce an entire feature. Tusk began as a jokey on-air proposal to make a movie about a man whose newfound living arrangement involves being sewn into a walrus suit, and that relevant podcast segment plays out over the film’s end credits in an effort to bring the matter full circle.
As for everything in between, there’s much of what’s both best and worst about Smith’s recent low-budget resurgence in the wake of the stillborn Cop Out. Justin Long stars as popular American podcaster (!) Wallace Bryton, whose initial excursion to Canada is waylaid by the eccentric promise of Howard Howe (Parks), a lonely old man with plenty of stories to share. This being something resembling a horror movie, Wallace shows no compunction about taking a beverage from a weirdo who lives in backwoods Manitoba, and by morning, he finds himself held as Howard’s new incapacitated plaything.
For the first hour, Smith appears to be taking the piss out of modern exploitation fare like the Human Centipede films, with Howard expounding at length to a terrified Wallace about his long-held fondness for the noble walrus and his intention to make this tourist live as one. Having brought a similar zealotry to Smith’s Red State, Parks’ performance straddles the line wonderfully between ferocity and camp, evoking Vincent Price in his Roger Corman era, and Long gives good wide-eyed panic in return.
(Those wary of spoilers may wish to skip the next paragraph.)
Then, as if at the flip of a switch, the tone swerves from bearably irreverent to exhaustively indulgent, as Wallace’s concerned co-host (Osment) and girlfriend (Rodriguez) enlist the help of a dogged French-Canadian detective to find him. Credited simply as “Guy Lapointe,” the character is played by none other than Johnny Depp, who’s given carte blanche to mug endlessly as a cross-eyed Québécois parody. A mere cameo could have been cute, but by the time he and Parks are splitting a buffet of scenery in their respective accents and make-up, whatever novelty the movie may have mustered up has been torpedoed, leaving the audience to remember that this feature-length joke isn’t for us so much as it’s on us for holding out hope that sheer weirdness might be enough to sustain this lark through to its violent finish.